The tension between doubt – hope – questions – faith is a very Christian one. Unfortunately, the latest breed of Christianity (in fear) has tried to snuff this tension out. Our inherited enlightenment sensibilities have no room for mystery, dialogue or pain, thus any talk about Heaven and Hell intersecting on planet earth makes for less than thoughtful conversation.
Our default (over the last hundred years specifically) has been to grin and bear this life until we can finally escape this planet. Here vocal branches of Christianity have assumed the role of fear mongering, doomsday prophets announcing a ‘turn or burn’ vendetta from a blood thirsty God.
Thankfully, the Bible makes no mention of such things. Instead we see a pattern, a series of course corrections, and a divine check mate from the Grand Master Himself. The Scriptures tell the story of a God who methodically and ultimately has and will cure humanity of its sin. It’s a tale of a people and planet reclaimed, restored, redeemed and reinvented. A narrative where humanity is invited, yet free to choose, whether or not to participate in the fix-it job. In fact, everyone is in unless they opt out. To opt out is to move in the opposite direction of God’s healing work which ultimately results in humans moving in the opposite direction of who they’re intended to be. So far removed in fact, as CS Lewis puts it, we stop being human all together. Separated from God and distanced from our true selves.
From here the big picture gains new clarity. We track with what God has done; biblical flash-forwards reveal what is to come, and in turn we become aware of the part we were always meant to play.
And what part would that be?
Renewal Artists, working hand in hand with God for the redemption of all things.
Here are some thoughts and ideas from outside sources that have helped influence our learning and action.
“I am and I am not a universalist. I am one if you are talking about what God in Christ has done to save the world. The Lamb of God has not taken away the sins of some — of only the good, or the cooperative, or the select few who can manage to get their act together and die as perfect peaches. He has taken away the sins of the world — of every last being in it — and he has dropped them down the black hole of Jesus’ death. On the cross, he has shut up forever on the subject of guilt: “There is therefore now no condemnation. . . .” All human beings, at all times and places, are home free whether they know it or not, feel it or not, believe it or not.”
But I am not a universalist if you are talking about what people may do about accepting that happy-go-lucky gift of God’s grace. I take with utter seriousness everything that Jesus had to say about hell, including the eternal torment that such a foolish non-acceptance of his already-given acceptance must entail. All theologians who hold Scripture to be the Word of God must inevitably include in their work a tractate on hell. But I will not — because Jesus did not — locate hell outside the realm of grace. Grace is forever sovereign, even in Jesus’ parables of judgment. No one is ever kicked out at the end of those parables who wasn’t included in at the beginning.”
“Humans give glory to God by excelling at who they have been created to be – by loving one another, by enjoying themselves and each other, by reaching out to one another in cooperation and service, by tending the earth by participating in worship and fellowship, by embracing joy and forgiveness and generosity by seeking the good of all in the good of each.”
“Understanding your place within Creation means that you see yourself as a part of some greater organism, that the presence of something very holy permeates and unifies all being. It means that you play a sacred role in Creation’s unfolding. And that, when viewed from a point of high enough vantage, everything is revealed to be in the hands of God.”
(Rabbi Lawrence Kushner)
“Even when sin is familiar, it’s never normal.”
“Our concern is not finally the origin of evil, the appearance of death or the power of the fall…it is rather the summons of this calling of God for us to be his creatures to live in his world on his terms.” (Walter Bruggemann)
“Hell is where sin eventually leads; it is the endpoint of the path away from God—a state of being outside the presence of God. When we see the worst of what goes on in this world, we can see that hell is not only a place people might go after death, but the condition of destruction and utter misery in which people can find themselves here and now.”
(Debra Rienstra )
“In what sense, then, did Jesus declare that the Kingdom of God was present? Our answer must at least begin with His own answer to John: “The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the poor have the Gospel preached to them.” In the ministry of Jesus Himself the divine power is released in effective conflict with evil.”
“God will redeem the whole universe; Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of that new life, the fresh grass growing through the concrete of corruption and decay in the old world. The final redemption will be the moment when heaven and earth are joined together at last in burst of God’s creative energy for which Easter is the prototype and source.”
“Ooh, baby, do you know what that’s worth?
Ooh heaven is a place on earth
They say in heaven love comes first
We’ll make heaven a place on earth
Ooh heaven is a place on earth”
“When you set the table
When you chose the scale
Did you write a riddle that you knew they would fail
Did you make them tremble
So they would tell the tale
Did you push us when we fell?”
“When Jesus directs us to pray “thy kingdom come” he does not mean we should pray for it to come into existence. Rather, we pray for it to take over all points in the personal, social, and political order where it is now excluded: “On earth where it is in heaven”. With this prayer we are invoking it , as in faith we are acting it, into the real world of our daily existence.”
“The gospel, you see, is not just a message for individuals, telling them how to avoid God’s wrath. It is a message about a kingdom, a society, a new community, a new covenant, a new family, a new nation, a new way of life, and therefore, a new culture. God calls us to build a city of God, a New Jerusalem.”
“The church latched on to that old doctrine of original sin like a dog to a stick, and before you knew it, the whole gospel got twisted around it. Instead of being God’s big message of saving love for the whole world, the gospel became a little bit of secret information on how to solve the pesky legal problem of original sin.”
“Even a commitment to an inspired bible is not a commitment to inerrant interpretations.”
“The christian understanding of hell is crucial for understanding your own heart, living at peace in the world and knowing the love of God”
“The concept of eternal punishment does not occur in the Hebrew Bible, which uses the term Sheol to designate a bleak subterranean region where the dead, good and bad alike, subsist only as impotent shadows. When Hellenistic Jewish scribes rendered the Bible into Greek, they used the word Hades to translate Sheol, bringing a whole new mythological association to the idea of posthumous existence. In ancient Greek myth, Hades, named after the gloomy deity who ruled over it, was originally similar to the Hebrew Sheol, a dark underground realm in which all the dead, regardless of individual merit, were indiscriminately housed.”
“The only resource powerful enough to both passify the human hearts desire for justice and at the same time keep us from getting sucked into that cycle of blood and vengeance is to say there is a God and he will put everything right. If you think not believing in God is going to keep people from being sucked into the cycle of violence, you’re wrong. If you don’t believe that there is somebody that is going to make everything right, then you will pick up the sword and you will get sucked in. If you don’t believe that the doctrine of of God’s judgment is a resource for living at peace on earth you’ve had a sheltered life. Belief in a God of judgment is crucial for a Croatian to live at peace on earth.”
“First they would threaten sinners with hell. Second, they would extend the reward of resurrection from the heroic martyrs to all good people–good meaning those who fulfilled the Pharisees’ idea of good. Finally, they would use the language of hell to accomplish what they felt they needed to accomplish–to frighten sinners enough to repent and change their ways for the good of the nation.”
“We tend to try to turn the rich and varied biblical lexicon into a limited range of synonymous technical terms. For example, judgment for us equals hell or condemnation. Condemnation equals hell, etc. We should be more careful than this in assuming words are synonyms, because the Bible is horribly disappointing as a modern-style technical textbook, even of theology. The Biblical lexicon of judgment includes sheol, hades, tartarus, gehenna, the abyss, death, darkness, fire, lake of fire, unquenchable fire, where the worm does not die, the Day, the Day of the Lord, etc”
“Most of the passages in the New Testament which have been thought by the Church to refer to people going into eternal punishment after they die’ is not about Heaven and Hell at all. The great majority of them have to do with the way.
“There was no single concept of hell in Second Temple Judaism but a cluster of images and concepts that held in common the claim that God would bring the wicked to account and punish them. Jesus and his followers took and made use of some of the language and images employed in the discourse of the time without endorsing every aspect of Second Temple Jewish beliefs about this fate.”
“The Pharisees used hell language one way. Jesus turned it around and used it in the opposite way. They threatened marginal people will hell unless they submitted to their religious dominance. Jesus threatened the religious establishment with hell unless they showed compassion for the marginal people. Hell has been used and abused, back and forth, ever since. He uses power language of hell to disempower the injustice of the powerful and to empower the disempowered to seek justice.”
“Contrary to the usual opinion that the good go to heaven and the bad go to hell, Jesus sets up his stories so that goodness and badness don’t count at all in the final judgment. The only thin judged at the end of these parables is faith, not works.”
“The doors of hell are locked from the inside.”
“Like the Kingdom of God, the subject of Hell is treated differently among the gospels and other NT writings. In the synoptics, the primary command of Christ seems to be to follow and do the will of God. In John, and in Paul’s writings, the prime detective is more often to believe in Jesus, or the gospel. Evangelicals tend to conflate the former into the latter, so that believing in some ways seems to negate the need to follow and do the will of God. Meanwhile, even in Paul’s writings, judgment is consistently associated with the phrase ‘according to their deeds,’ not ‘according to their beliefs.’ Also, while the synoptics frequently use similar language regarding hell, John uses a different kind of language. So, it seems to me that we are left with an embarrassing failure to take all of Scripture seriously, and we are left with a difficult challenge: how (or whether?) to integrate the various approaches to hell found in scripture.”